Friday, August 11, 2017

Take a deep, slow breath

I think I understand basic meditation and the values of increased awareness that 10 minutes a day of meditation brings.  A typical focus of one's attention with such mind training is the breath.  A conscious inhalation and an equally deliberate, conscious exhalation gives the meditator something to anchor attention.  That way, drifting off of conscious breathing into thought of what to make for dinner is more easily noticed.  That noticing is what is being sharpened, noticing what is on one's mind, deciding if that is what is desired at this time.  Returning attention to the breath over and over increases awareness of the mind's activity, which is mindfulness.


However, the breath itself is a powerful and interesting part of our lives.  "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi and many other books are about improving mood, overall health with better breathing.  I have often found that the psychologist Gay Hendricks and his sometime co-author and wife Kathlyn write in my language and offer good assistance, support and ideas.  Their book "Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Relief and Personal Mastery" contains enthusiastic references to what can be done with the breath.  Hendricks is a practicing psychologist and his wife is an experienced dancer.  Their books "Conscious Living" and "Conscious Loving" are helpful for Americans who are interested in adapting ideas and practices from other cultures and from scientific research when there are benefits to be had.  


I have had the "Conscious Breathing" book in the back of my mind since I read some of it a few years ago.  At the time, I was interested in the fact that being as fully aware of my breathing as I am able is something I can do without looking weird or exotic.  I can do it with my eyes open and I can close my eyes and completely relax, all the while staying with my breath.  The book "Joy on Demand" by the Chinese American Google engineer Chad-Meng" Tan repeatedly refers to concentrating on breathing as a tool for meditation.


"Conscious Breathing" is so enthusiastic about careful, full breathing as a tool in itself for both mental and physical health that I gave the practice a bit of a workout today.  Some people can do anything by itself, but I have something of an obsession with time and duration.  When meditating alone, I usually use 8 minutes on my favorite timer, the one on the clock on the first page of apps on the iPad.  Today, I wanted to try more breathing and try it in several ways.  Gay Hendricks emphasizes, as do many breathing instructors, the value of belly breathing.  When extending the belly instead of puffing out the chest, the lungs actually get fuller, better filled.  Hendricks says that some people are so afraid of having a bulging belly that they are reluctant to breathe fully.  I'm not.


I did four very conscious minutes on a hard chair and four more each on a reclined recliner, a meditation cushion, a different cushion, and standing.  I intend to give myself more trials but it seems as though my general mood gets elevated without my trying to raise it when I really fill my lungs slowly and slowly and thoughtfully exhale.  I read that the body actually extracts oxygen from the air on the exhalation so maybe better breathing gives me an oxygen boost.


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